HOLLYWOOD, CA—Stating that "the time has come for a tonal shift" in the blockbuster series, director Christopher Nolan announced Thursday that the forthcoming Batman film The Dark Knight Rises would take a lighter, more humorous tone than its predecessors, and would be filled with "slapstick, primary colors, and just plain old fun."
"I was somewhat happy with the first two films—probing the psychological landscape of Gotham from an adult perspective is sort of neat, if you like that kind of thing," Nolan told reporters at a promotional event. "But then I realized, 'Hey, what am I doing? Batman is a superhero. Superheroes are supposed to be fun and for kids.' So this time around, I wanted to make something nice and light and simple, because people aren't looking for a civics lesson with Batman. They just want some pleasant, mindless diversion."
"After all, we're talking about a comic-book movie here," Nolan added. "Let's lighten things up a bit, shall we?"
According to Nolan, in early script meetings for the sequel, proposed plot threads tended to focus on familiar themes of the pained inner life of Bruce Wayne/Batman, his complicated relationship with Gotham law enforcement, the depraved nihilism of the city's criminal element, and the crushing weight of his traumatic memory of his parents' murder.
However, Nolan said, he soon grew weary of the treatment's often somber and starkly realistic tone, and opted instead to focus on the fact that Batman comes from an "enjoyable little picture book" and should therefore not be approached with such grave solemnity.
"It hit me all of a sudden that comic books are really just silly and frivolous things, and that the people who read them are primarily children or fun-loving adults who are looking for a cheery, good old-fashioned romp," Nolan said. "I mean, it's Batman, for God's sake, not Richard III. We should just go goofy with it. And so we did."
The film's screenplay, co-written with veteran film and television writer Lorenzo Semple Jr., reportedly concerns a coalition of villains who form a "Batman Revenge Society." The groups aims to murder Batman (Christian Bale) with, at various times, a plummeting steel safe, jets of cyanide gas concealed in a stuffed moose head, a trapdoor over a shark tank, a beautifully wrapped but ticking gift box, a gorilla trained to go berserk when it sees Batman, a sexy but ungrounded female robot, and a Rube Goldberg–style contraption that, roughly 90 seconds after activation, propels a whirling buzz saw blade into the midsection of whoever is standing on a painted bull's-eye target.
"I feel like I really went back to Batman's roots and discovered the character's true essence," Nolan said. "And that essence turned out to be in the Batman comics from 1940 through 1970, the 1960s Adam West series, the 1970s Super Friends episodes, the actually quite enjoyable films of Joel Schumacher, and Batman's cameo appearances on Scooby-Doo. These were my creative touchstones as I completed my trilogy."
Nolan promised the new film would whisk children of all ages into the fun four-color world of Gotham City, and delight them with whimsical surprises, including an extended car chase through a paint factory, zoo, and outdoor wedding; a new Batmobile whose onboard computer is programmed with a childlike personality able to honk its horn to signal approval or retreat into an alley when scared; and a humorous subplot concerning the inability of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) to get a Murphy bed to stay down.
The director also said Rises would be the "most merchandisable" Batman film in years, and he promised a vast array of licensed tie-ins, from infant onesies and light-up children's shoes to an expansion module for the Lego Batman video game and a special Dark Knight Rises edition of Monopoly featuring all the zany locations and characters from the film.
"Best of all, there will be absolutely none of the confusing moral ambiguity that dragged down The Dark Knight," Nolan said. "People don't want all that pompous 'Who's the real monster, Batman or the criminals he pursues?' junk. They want to see the Joker get a big sockeroo on the chin and get tangled up in a net. That's classic funny-book entertainment."
"Needless to say, no one could ever replace Heath Ledger as the Joker," Nolan added, "but I have to say that Rob Schneider stepped up like a pro. He's just naturally funny and a real cutup, which is what you want in the Joker."
Nolan confirmed he is open to continuing the franchise indefinitely on an accelerated pace of up to one feature per year, "as long as people keep going to see them," and he has asked fans to participate in a DC Comics online poll to select the next film's villains.
"As long as I get to give the movie-going public the whiz-bang action and goofy comedy they crave, I'm artistically satisfied," he added.
Opening July 20, The Dark Knight Rises stars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and the yet-to-be-announced winner of the Nickelodeon/Capri Sun "I Wanna Co-star with Batman" Sweepstakes as either Robin or Batgirl.